Each of our barns contains two resident barn cats who we brought home from the local humane society. They live there year-round, catching the mice and birds that dare to enter. Since the mouse population dwindles and fewer birds call our barns home during the winter, we supply the cats with unlimited dry food and a small amount of moist food each day.
Our neighborhood is also home to quite a few feral cats. During the summer they live in the woods and fields around our home, but in the winter they seek shelter among the many open barns. Our neighbors also provide some canned and dry food to the cats who move into their barns. This means that any one feral cat has many choices as to where to bed down for the winter. I imagine the selection is made on the type of food, the number of cats competing for space, and the other residents of the barn. Although all of our humane society cats are neutered and spayed, these many visitors are mostly intact. Over the years we have seen a rotating cast of characters come and go among our two barns.
Several years ago a new cat appeared and made his home in the storage barn. He was a big fat tomcat with a thick, shiny dark coat and four white socks. He obviously considered himself the king of the barn. After he had presided over his domain for several months, we decided he needed a name — and he became known as King Edward or Edward for short. Although feral, he was trusting enough to allow us to pet his head or scratch behind his ears. Too much attention would send him retreating into the stacks of hay. For the past many years, Edward has appeared in the fall and spent the winter, and last winter was no different. He arrived, yet after a couple of months he disappeared. My daily barn visits were a bit sadder as I contemplated the many things that could have befallen a feral cat during an Iowa winter.
As lambing 2016 commenced, I found that Edward had dragged himself home. Missing skin over much of his neck and with scars over his head and back, he was riddled with infection and near death. We fed him for several days, trying to figure out how to capture him so he’d get the medical attention he needed. In the end he thwarted our attempts and escaped into the cold. Once again, Edward was nowhere to be found.
After all of this, I was surprised when Edward appeared in our sheep barn as the weather turned cold. Unlike before, this new Edward was not nearly so large nor was his fur so thick and shiny. The new Edward was scarred and beaten with dull patchy fur and protruding ribs. The past months had obviously not been kind to him. Instead of attempting any medical intervention (which I suspect would have chased him away), we decided to simply feed him and provide shelter. Unlike in prior years, this new Edward was eager for love, moving in figure eights around our ankles and never seeming to get enough attention.
Over the past weeks, Edward has tried residency in each of our two barns. It seems he could not make peace with our two neutered male cats in the storage barn, and after a week he decided to make the sheep barn his home. He shares the space with Frank, a neutered male, and Socks, a spayed female. Since Frank is somewhat temperamental and Socks is like a ghost that flits around the corners of the barn, Edward gets more attention in this space. He is also more friendly with the sheep than the other cats and knows that it is only a matter of time before he can share the heat lamps with the ewes and newborn lambs.
I’ll admit that I’m pleased to have Edward back. During his absence my mind was filled with terrible scenarios of his possible fate. I know that feral cats in this environment do not live particularly long lives. I also know that Edward was not a kitten when he first appeared and that he has already used eight of his nine lives. Yet each time I enter the barn to Edward’s fond greeting or have to place him on the hay bales so I can walk past, I am so happy that he has returned to us for however much time he has left. I hope that our food, shelter, and daily love will help him regain his size, build his thick and shiny coat, and help him resume the title of King Edward once again.